The happily married Partannas’ job hits them where it hurts…
A Mafia hitman meets his dream woman and hopes for a happy ending. But his ex-fiance is out to get him back whatever it costs.
Prizzi’s Honor Trailer, Kurt and photos © 20th Century Fox
Have you ever been to a wedding to spot a wedding guest, who you quite fancy and then hope to chat up at the reception? If you asked Charley Partanna (Jack Nicholson) from Prizzi’s Honor (1985), he’d agree. Charley would recall his first sight of the girl in the lavender dress. This is a film love story which was written by Richard Condon, writer of The Manchurian Candidate (1962). Roger Ebert (HERE) describes how this author;
takes two absolutes – romantic love and the Prizzi’s honor – and arranges a collision between them.
The film starts in a cathedral at a family wedding, where the middle-aged Charley’s smitten after seeing a guest for the first time. He’s so taken with her he even asks the wedding photographer to take her photo.
At the wedding reception, Charley asks her to dance, and she accepts. As he shows his best moves on the dance floor, she’s asked to answer a phone call before he can ask her name. Now she’s gone and disappeared, so what’s a guy to do?
After returning home, Charley’s arrested by the police. There’s been a murder, with all the suspects “at the wedding”. After being released by the police later that night, Charley phones (and wakes up) his ex-fiancee (and cousin), Maerose Prizzi (Angelica Huston) in the wee small hours.
This is just to see if she knows who this mystery woman is, he’s that obsessed. Maerose doesn’t know, just as Charley doesn’t know Maerose still has romantic feelings for him. It’s here in the film we learn this film is not a conventional love story of boy meets girl etc. As it’s a wee bit more complicated for Charley.
Maerose and Charlie were engaged – around four years previously – but he broke it off. After this, she hooked up with someone after they split and was then disowned by her father, Dominic (Lee Richardson) as she dishonoured her family, the Prizzis.
Dominic’s father is the elderly Don Corrado Prizzi (William Hickey), head of a New York crime organization and the patriarch of the Prizzis. Carrado is wonderfully described by Ebert as;
a mean little old man who looks like he has been freeze-dried by the lifelong ordeal of draining every ounce of humanity out of his wizened body.
Charley’s father Angelo (John Randolph) is his son, who like his brothers Dominic and Eduardo (Robert Loggia) works for the family. Angelo is also his father’s invaluable assistant.
Charley’s still at a loss, but then that girl in the lavender dress phones and apologises for running out on him. She introduces herself as Irene Walker (Kathleen Turner). To his uncontained joy, she suggests meeting up. But she’s in California.
So Charley hops on a plane… (as you do). On meeting Irene, the attraction is mutual. After a serious amount of flirting, it’s to the bedroom for some good ol’ passionate, no holds barred lovemaking. But then it gets even more complicated…
Charley’s asked to do a job by the Prizzis, and we learn Charley’s a hitman. Charley proved his honour and loyalty to the family in blood as a young man. Charley’s asked by the family to kill a man, Marxsie Heller. Marxsie Heller has been taking money from the Prizzi’s casinos.
Once Charley takes care of this business and Marxsie is shot dead, Marxsie’s wife returns home with the shopping. Charley discovers it’s Irene. He should kill her, but he doesn’t as he believes her word when Irene tells him she’s not part of Marxsie’s scam. He returns home with half the money to give to the Prizzis.
After asking for romantic advice from his ex-fiancee, Maerose suggests marriage for him and Irene. Maerose says should he marry Irene, she will get her honour back and regain her father’s acceptance. Maerose is a wee bit on the over seductive side, and Charley and her end up sleeping together. After Irene and Charley get married, Maerose looks for evidence that Irene double-crossed the Prizzi family.
Charley learns his new wife, is also a hit (wo)man who carried out the murder during the recent wedding. Then Charley is asked to do another assignment and talks it over with his father. Irene outlines a plan and volunteers to help. Charley is a bit against his wife working. However, Irene and his father persuaded him to let her join him in an assignment.
Meanwhile, Maerose regains her honour by telling the Don of Irene’s betrayal and then she lies to her father by telling him Charley forced himself onto her. Charley is asked to carry out a hit on Irene by the Don, and Irene a hit on Charley by Dominic.
On watching Ebert and Siskel reviewing this film (HERE.. around the 12-minute mark) it is clear these reviewers were as enthusiastic as I was about this movie. Unlike Siskel who raves about Maerose as his favourite character, I particularly enjoyed Nicholson’s characterisation of Charley Partanna.
Nicholson adopts a thick Brooklyn accent and plays his character a wee bit dim but totally ruthless. His character is tormented and torn by his honour for his family and with his strong love for Irene. The script with some delicious lines to reinforce his dilemma, with Charley asking “Do I marry her? Do I ice her?”.
After Irene outlines a plan involving a role for her in his latest assignment, he is unhappy about his wife “working”. Irene’s involvement troubles him more than the nature of the job. Nicholson gives a remarkable deadpan expression during these scenes and adds black comedy to his role as a hitman.
Nicholson and Turner have a wonderful electrifying on-screen chemistry, this much more evident than it seemed with Nicolas Cage, her love interest in Peggy Sue Got Married (1986). Nicholson and Turner make a credible couple in all ways, both in and out of the bedroom scenes. With her the brains and him the brawn of the couple, they complemented each other perfectly.
I loved the absurdity of how all these characters – be it those lovers or the Prizzi’s family – were more accepting of hitmen in the family, more than any other factor; this line from Maerose speaks volumes, on why Irene is a good match for Charley.
Just because she’s a thief and a hitter doesn’t mean she’s not a good woman in all the other departments. If she was some kind of fashion model, well it wouldn’t last more than thirty days. But you and she is in the same line of business. You are lucky you found each other, you know that, Charley?
One of my favourite scenes has Irene talking about how her deceased husband Marxsie would respond in a situation; Charley retorts if he’s “so fuckin’ smart, how come he’s so fuckin’ dead?”. This black comedy film premise had Ebert adding that;
This is the most bizarre comedy in many a month, a movie so dark, so cynical and so funny that perhaps only Jack Nicholson and Kathleen Turner could have kept straight faces during the love scenes.
This comedy in tune with the dramatic plot is coupled with a bombastic, operatic inspired soundtrack for this film from Alex North. North was credited here as the soundtrack composer adapting works from Giacomo Puccini and Gioachino Rossini. North also provided equally majestic scores for blockbuster films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Cleopatra (1963).
The story was beautifully filmed, with some wonderful setup shots before and during the action. Many note this film was a family project directed by John Huston. His daughter Angelica was cast as Maerose and her then-boyfriend was Jack Nicholson. Both Hustons were nominated at the Oscars for this film.
However, where her then 79-year-old father, John lost out on the Best Director, Angelica Huston went home with a Best Supporting Actress award. This film was nominated for a further six Academy Awards including Jack Nicholson as Best Actor.
I have fond memories of watching this film one family Christmas, where I remember the scene where Charley has his first date with Irene. It’s a memorable scene, Nicholson – wearing his canary coloured jacket – as Charley is transfixed by Irene as she orders a rum and pineapple juice, he orders the same.
My dad named this drink in the film’s honour as a Prizzi. So pour yourself a Prizzi, drink in the sights, and sounds and watch those conflicting feelings towards families, love and honour in this film. Be it viewed to see the dynamics of the Prizzis, Partannas or the Hustons. I give you my word of honour that it is an intoxicating vintage film where Charley has to decide between his family or his wife, just who to honour until death he does part.
Weeper Rating: 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦/10
Handsqueeze Rating: /10
Hulk Rating: /10
Siskel and Ebert at the Blogathon 2019, No 90
This review was added to 18 Cinema Lane’s Siskel and Ebert at the Blogathon. Other posts with this cast include Angelica Huston in John Wick: Chapter 3- Parabellum. Jack Nicholson starred in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, As Good As it Gets, Mars Attacks, Something’s Gotta Give, The Witches of Eastwick, Goin South, Batman, Terms of Endearment, Easy Rider and The Shining. Kathleen Turner stars in Peggy Sue Got Married, Romancing the Stone. and Californication. Robert Loggia stars in Big, SOB and Charlie’s Angels.